Adeela Warley: Words matter, so let's reflect on how we use them

As we look ahead to a new year, it is a valuable time to reflect on how we communicate

Politicians often ask to be judged by their deeds, not words, but we probably judge both, because words matter. Words elicit emotional responses when read and heard, and they shape our views, votes, and behaviours.

Not surprisingly, the Oxford English Dictionary has been unable to choose a single word of the year. The OED’s Casper Grathwohl said: “In a year that left us speechless, 2020 was filled with new words unlike any other.” 

The terms corona and lockdown will never be the same, and bubbles have new meaning in time for the festive season.

Other discourses shaping 2020 have been equality and inclusion, and two great communicators recently gave new power to the word "we”.

Speaking about his memoir, A Promised Land, the former US president, Barack Obama, invoked the power of his country's constitution: ”When we say ‘We the people…’ it’s not just a handful of folks – not just property owners, it’s not just white males, it’s all of us, we have a seat at the table and there is a powerful and beautiful story to tell in that progression.”

At Acevo’s recent annual conference, Akiko Hart, chief executive of the National Survivor User Network, acknowledged that she has not had the lived experience of many of the people in her network. 

She explained that she takes care to avoid “we” when she means “me”, and to ensure that, when used, “we” is legitimate and truly of the community. 

This matters because there is no monolith of experience. Class, race and gender are individual, and stories are personal.

It is a valuable reflection as 2021 hurtles into view, with hope in our hearts and powerful words on minds, lips and laptops.

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms

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